Building a Theory of Participation in Physically Active Leisure

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Funk, Daniel

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O'Brien, Daniel

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Participation in physically active leisure represents a group of behaviours which have important implications that extend far beyond the people and organisations directly involved in the delivery of active leisure opportunities. There is irrefutable evidence that physical activity positively affects both physical and mental health, yet the majority of the world’s population remains insufficiently active to achieve these benefits. On top of these benefits, increased participation in physically active leisure is suggested to provide nations with a tool for enhancing international relations as well as increasing both social and economic capital. Accordingly, participation has been widely studied, and vast resources have been expended on attempts to increase participation levels. However, limited success has been achieved in either of these areas due to an underdeveloped knowledge base regarding these behaviours. This research builds on previous work that gave rise to the emerging theory of participation in physically active leisure (TOP), which has previously been argued to have the potential to develop the knowledge base of these behaviours through the provision of a sound middle range theory. The TOP was developed from the perspective of the psychological continuum model which views commitment and loyalty as a developmental progression through four distinct stages of increasing psychological connection to an activity. Initial research applying the TOP provided encouraging results. However, critical reflection on the TOP revealed that the theory failed to provide an adequate account of disengagement from participation. A review of the literature shows that disengagement from participation is an important factor in the sub-optimal levels of physical activity in society. Also, that disengagement from participation is poorly understood due to a general lack of attention from the academy. Together, these factors provided the opportunity for this research to make an original and significant contribution to the knowledge and understanding of participation in physically active leisure. A detailed analysis of the general concept of motivation, and self-determination theory in particular, as well as satisfaction, and constraints, led to the identification of the need to incorporate an additional stage into the TOP. This additional stage was termed the ambivalence stage, and a suggested new model of the stages was provided along with a discussion of the expected processes governing movement between the stages. The focus of this research was then on examining whether incorporating an ambivalence stage into the TOP provided an adequate account of both engagement and disengagement. Two prospective studies were conducted as part of this research, each with three data collection points over approximately a six month period. The first study was conducted in the context of softball participation (n = 456), and the second study was conducted in the context of tennis participation (n = 195). The attrition rate of participants across the three data collection points was 68% in the sample of softball participants and 40% in the sample of tennis participants. The main data analysis techniques employed were confirmatory factor analysis, contingency tables, multivariate analysis of variance, and paired sample t-tests.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Griffith Business School

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Theory of participation

Physically active leisure

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